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Trip Report – Awesome Weather on Aspring

By: Mingma Sherpa

Source: Australia Section Newsletter (February 2018)

After a few months of rough planning, a mountaineering trip to Mt Aspiring was set for the late spring of 2017. Six keen punters from the NZ Alpine Clubs Australian Section were lined up and ready for a week together in the mountains. The plan was to meet and greet in Wanaka, fly into Bevan Col, spend up to five nights at Colin Todd Hut and walk out through the West Matukituki Valley.

The members of the trip had briefly met prior to the trip. Josh Atkinson (the trip organizer) and his climbing partner and our sixth member Matt Molyneux were fresh from a week up at Pioneer Hut, high up on the Fox Glacier where they had been completing a number of guided ascents in the area. Unfortunately, Matt had to pull out for the Mt Aspiring trip, leaving the party to five. Charles Freer had also spent the previous week completing an Alpine Skills Course, based at Plateau Hut. He then had a week off in Wanaka, waiting for the others to arrive so he was ready to get back into the mountains. Gourav Bhaduni arrived the day before the scheduled Bevan Col flight date. On the morning of our fly out day, he briskly ran up Wanaka’s Iron Knob while the rest of the party were happily asleep in bed. Ian Allan and I met on a Technical Mountaineering Course in Spring 2016. It was good to meet again and put together what we had learned.

The plan was to eat like kings. A trip to Wanaka New World resulted in four apple boxes being packed full of delicious food to take in for the week, weighing in at nearly 50kg! On landing at Bevan Col, each box would be slid into a garbage bag and towed across the Bonar Glacier and up to Colin Todd Hut.

Saturday 18th of November 2017. Day 1. Fly in day.

As forecasted, the weather on our flight date was nothing less than spectacular. Beautiful clear blue skies with no wind. We arrived at the helicopter base two hours early, hard to hide how keen we all were. Great views were had from the helicopter and we had a good flight over The Quarterdeck and The Breakaway to assess conditions for our departure route down French Ridge. Landing at Bevan Col, we all kitted up for the glacier crossing and to protect ourselves from the blazing hot sun and happily started towing the food boxes across to the hut.

The first mission of the trip, getting all the food safely to the hut, resulted in a great success. The only casualty being one box of Cous Cous lost to the Bonar. That evening, our first of five in Colin Todd, we decided that for the following day would be to climb as a group on easy terrain, to get to know each other in the mountains.

Sunday 19th of November 2017. Day 2. The Rolling Pin.

We got up after the guided parties had left the hut for Mt Aspiring. The southern end of the Rolling Pin is only a short walk from Colin Todd, so it provided a good area where we could practice pitching and building anchors. The Rolling Pin runs a North South strike for a couple hundred meters, providing a spectacular backdrop for the beautiful pink sunrise that we were able to witness. We were very fortunate that each day the weather was on repeat, clear skies and little wind. Although the downside to the warm temperature being soft snow, plugging steps everywhere we went.

Later that morning the party broke off into two groups. Ian and I doing a traverse of the Rolling Pin from South to North and the other three doing a lower traverse and then returning back to the hut to beat the midday sun.

Once atop the Rolling Pin, Ian and I had a great time traversing the ridge. Eight or so pitches along the soft snow was great fun and a great way to warm up for the week. Great views were had down the Therma and Volta Glaciers, where big crevasses were opening up and moraine walls collapsing, not an inviting place to be.

On descent and return to the hut, the most eventful moment was when Ian though he clipped his helmet onto his harness, until realising it was not and then we both proceeded to watch the orange cap roll hundreds of meters down the slope and out of sight. Fortunately it was caught in a snow drift, otherwise, it may have been a very long trip down towards the Waipara River.

Monday 20th of November 2017. Day 3. Mt Aspiring.

A group discussion the previous night resulted in Ian and I waking up at 3:30am to climb Mt Aspiring. The rest of the hut were asleep, to wake at a more reasonable hour to have a more enjoyable day.

The plan was to ascend The Ramp and descend via the North West Ridge. Warm conditions overnight resulted in soft snow on the walk to the base of the ramp and the potential for melting snow and ice to break off loose rocks from the ridge above us. As we were about to cross the bergschrund to gain the ramp, cracks and falling objects could be heard above us which followed by these objects being heard at speed flying past our heads. Fortunately, the only hit was a small rock cutting my hand but awake up call to continue moving fast and get out of the danger zone.

Looking back on the day, the eight pitches up The Ramp were quite enjoyable. As we climbed higher the views back down to the Bonner changed perspective. As Mt Aspiring is the only 3000m peak in the region, it is quite spectacular to be able to sit up high and look down to the surrounding mountains, glaciers, and valleys below.

Once up the top of The Ramp, an easy walk was had up to the summit. Clouds closing in, we moved as quick but not quick enough, as once we were on top there was less than 10m visibility. It must have been our good luck, that we were fortunate enough to see half an hour of thick cloud all week, while we were on the top of Mt Aspiring.

The descent was enjoyable. Easy scrambling along the ridge, a few abseils down the buttress and then further travel along the ridge got us back to the hut by7pm. It was a great day out and we truly enjoyed it all.

That day, Josh, Charlie and Gourav had an enjoyable mornings walk around the western face of the rolling pin.

Tuesday 21st of November 2017. Day 4. The Rolling Pin, Northern End.

After a big day on Mt Aspiring, Ian decided to become the coffee connoisseur of Colin Todd, utilising his rest day to make use of the fine assortment of plungers available. The parties four other members made a casual start of 6am to leave for the Northern end of the Rolling Pin, where some good access points were observed from Ian and my traverse two days prior.

Josh and Charlie paired up while I paired with Gourav. It was a long walk to the base of where we started pitching and by the time we stopped for a midmorning snack, we wished Ian had come along with the coffee plunger. Once on top, the Northern End of The Rolling Pin consisted of a broad snow ridge, three rope lengths long, tapering to a very thin rock step. A few attempts were had at crossing the rock step, with great exposure either side and only a soft snow anchor for protection, a retreat was made. We then found a good spot to abseil back down to the base of the buttress.

I was hoping we would be back by lunch, but a long slow day got us back to Colin Todd by 4pm.

Wednesday 22nd of November 2017. Day 5. Mt Bevan.

Plans were made the previous night for Josh and Charlie to attempt the North West Ridge of Mt Aspiring and Ian, Gourav and myself to go to the North Ridge of Mt Bevan. After a good night’s sleep in an overcrowded hut, Charlie and Gourav woke up feeling unwell so Ian, Josh and I set out for Mt Bevan at a casual 6am.

On route to Mt Bevan, a detour was made to the Bonar Icefall. An inquiry was made into the possibility of abseiling down into the icefall and using the glacier for ice climbing, but the findings were not great, with peeling seracs and unstable snow bridges the detour was finished. We set off back for the base of Mt Bevan.

Mt Bevan was proving to be a classic New Zealand route, with the access onto the ridge being similar to climbing a large pile of Weet-Bix. Finally, we found a stable snow slope that got us up, from where we could see the challenge ahead. The flat ridge consisted of a clean slab running down to the lake draining the Bonar Icefall and more Weet-Bix on the other side, facing the Bonar Glacier. There was a mix of snow and rock, so we were happy to bring the half rack of rock gear.

Six pitches along the ridge and two pitches of easy climbing on loose rock up a short buttress had us on top by3pm. It was a slow day, switching leads between the three of us but very enjoyable in the fine weather. From the top of Mt Bevan, the best views can be had of Mt Aspiring, as Ian and I took in the route we climbed on it the previous day. Further views could be had of French Ridge and all the way back down the West Matukituki Valley to Aspiring Hut. To descend we found a long ice couloir where the two ropes we brought, one being Ian’s 70m, gave us enough length for a 60m abseil down to a snow slope from where we could walk.

Another great day to end a great week.

Thursday and Friday 24th to 25th of November 2017. Day 6 and 7. Colin Todd Hut, overnight at French Ridge out to Raspberry Flat Carpark.

Our food rations were on point. We packed what we needed for the overnight walk out and left a few non-perishable items in the hut food box. It was suspected that some of these items would not last the day, as the hut was still full of hungry climbers.

Gourav decided to fly out from Bevan Col, instead of walking as he was still feeling unwell so the remaining four set off from Colin Todd after giving it a good tidy and clean.

We took the Breakaway down to French Ridge. A quick route early in the morning but recent avalanche activity was present so we moved quickly. We found a lunch spot, before heading down the ridge to the hut from where we could watch two Chamois follow our tracks from the Bonar Glacier through the Breakaway and easily jump the crevasses we skirted around.

Once at French Ridge, a delightful afternoon was had basking in the afternoon sun and chatting about the week past.

The following morning we set off down the steep forest of French Ridge. The valley floor being a welcome site where numerous bathes were had in the freezing river water. A brisk walk back to the carpark saw the party back in Wanaka by 4:30pm, where celebration beers were had shortly after.

Thanks all to a great week of climbing in beautiful weather in the mountains.

Posted: 14/03/18

Posted By: Narina Sutherland